The Mighty Mite Bomb...
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  1. #1
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    Default The Mighty Mite Bomb...

    This is a topic that seems to come up more and more often, and one that I've given a great deal of thought to.

    The assumption is that treatment free beekeepers are maintaining 'mite bombs' that negatively impact the 'responsible' beekeepers by robbing/drift....act as a reservoir for mites that re-infest the hives of those who have recently and responsibly treated their bees.

    ....when I hear people make these claims, the first thing that comes to mind is 'bee trees'. I don't know a beekeeper that doesn't have a warm spot in their heart for a bee tree...most of the time (unless there is a nuisance issue or the tree is coming down for another reason), beekeepers are happy to leave them be (and maybe setup a swarm trap or 3). ...but why is this? Why is the bee tree not just another (eliminateable) mite bomb?

    ...more to the point (and I'll use conservative numbers here), there are about 2.5 million migratory bee colonies in the US. Let's assume an _average_ (some will be much less, some will be much more) escaped swarm rate of 1% migratory colony/year.

    That 'deposits' 25,000 unmanaged colonies into our environment per year. ...but unlike the 'bombs' being maintained by beekeepers using a TF approach, these swarms are from stock that is idealized for migratory beekeeping (mites are presumed to be kept down by treatments while early/ready brooding for almonds and/or package production are among the primary selected traits).

    Certainly not all hives being maintained TF are from mite resistant stock, but there is certainly a strong bias in that direction.

    So, there are 1 or 2 thousand migratory commercial beekeepers in business that are responsible for 25,000 'mite bombs' that are more suited for the role of 'mite bomb' than most TF colonies...they've even been exposed to all the emerging pathogens at the annual pox party before being shipped around the countryside casting off swarms.

    If 'mite bombs' were really a concern, we would be talking about these aprox 25,000 swarms/year.

    Whereas a TF beekeeper is generally 'loosing' when their hive collapses, the 'cost' of these swarms is already (by the fact that more rigorous swarm prevention isn't common practice) been determined to be just a cost of doing (profitable) business.

    I'm not out to criticize anyone or any particular approach....my criticism is with the lack of 'big picture thinking' that goes on when TF beekeepers are accused of being the problem.
    Sometimes the lights all shining on me
    Other times I can barely see. -The Grateful Dead

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  3. #2
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    Default Re: The Mighty Mite Bomb...

    That is not what I thought everyone was talking about when they say "mite bomb". My understanding was a mite bomb was when a hive population was booming, therefore the mite population is booming. When the fall comes and the bee population start to decline the mites are still reproducing. That creates a situation where the mite:bee ratio is much higher than the summer. If not treated some hives will die under the pressure.

    Learn something new everyday. Plus now I have someone to blame for my mites!
    zone 5b
    Back in 2019!

  4. #3
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    Default Re: The Mighty Mite Bomb...

    Quote Originally Posted by deknow View Post
    ...act as a reservoir for mites that re-infest the hives of those who have recently and responsibly treated their bees.
    I think this is an oxymoron
    Please excuse me, I am now free to go manage & treat ;)
    my ladies the best way I know how.

  5. #4
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    Default Re: The Mighty Mite Bomb...

    It'd be a lot of pencil whipping and still then just an estimate.

    All I know is here in Iowa survey says...
    Close to 60% of people don't treat and they're losing 50-70% of their colonies depending on the winter compared to roughly half that for treating keepers (all according to our state apiarist). All varroa related, surely not... but I'd bet a good amount of money that varroa is the main cause. These people aren't using proven stock, but whatever you buy with packages. Most local suppliers get their packages from California.

    I also don't know how many of those die before winter. I suppose a mite laden colony that dies in February doesn't really hurt anyone except the bees and their keeper. It's the ones who have all summer to build them up and crash during fall when robbing is prevalent. Just a couple miles up the road from one of my outyards there's a guy that puts out 15 colonies every spring. These boxes have been dead every spring for the last two years. He collects them and either splits into them from other colonies or shakes packages in... I suspect packages because it'd be pretty early to be splitting here.

    I've talked to the lady who owns the land. This guy has about 400 colonies and is considering giving it up because he can't keep them alive. Regardless of what's killing them... this guy obviously doesn't know what he's doing in these "modern times" of beekeeping. They probably pose some unquantifiable hazard to my bees and any other bees around. Who knows what kind of ripple affect that has on bees in the area... kept or feral.

  6. #5
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    Default Re: The Mighty Mite Bomb...

    I think of mite bombs as a small group of hives owned by a backyard beekeeper who never treats and regularly allows them to collapse from a florid mite infestation within the first 12-18 months. These beekeepers are often pretty clueless about beekeeping in general, and consistently blame these collapses on Monsanto, GMO, neonics, CCD, winter weather, etc. And never on their own choices, or mistakes.

    (All of the really good beekeepers that I know are always pondering how they can do better, improve their skills, or interpret their bees' needs more accurately.)

    I don't know what to make of them. I think they are TF not so much out of conviction but more out of both intellectual and physical laziness, and they seem to subscribe to the self-serving notion that it's best to just "let bees be bees." You can certainly be TF, or at least not use any chemical measures to kill varroa mites, and not be a mite bomb. But there's a selfish, defeatist attitude about the mite bomb apiaries. The current, sappy, "Save The Bees" propaganda has given a fair number well-meaning, but ill-suited, people the idea that they can make a difference, one hive at time.

    When beekeeping turns out to to the kind of hard, sometimes intense, work that it is, they fall prey to internet nonsense. And they latch on to a half-baked version of TF that allows them rationalize doing nothing to care for their livestock as a more pure, holistic form of beekeeping. What rubbish!

    This year I lucked out, because after living a little over a mile from a mite bomb apiary, with the predictable results, the mite bombs' owners have thrown in the towel and didn't buy any more bees this spring. They have been keeping bees for eight years and never had a single colony survive the winter.

    I also have about five or six (that I know of, there may be more) long-occupied feral colony sites within a two mile radius, including one I just discovered this spring that's about 1000 feet from my beeyard. Are they mite bombs? Perhaps, but I think feral colonies tend to ebb and flow, and are replaced when they are vacated, for whatever reason. (One large colony about a mile away that had been occupied, without winter loss for four consecutive summers, simply vanished in early August this year. I have no idea what happened.),

    I have no migratory beekeepers in my area, so the only sources of fresh mites come with packages or nucs that replace lost colonies. I almost hesitate to share my enthusiasm for beekeeping with my neighbors for fear that they, too, will take up the hobby.

    I don't think "mite bombs" include people trying conscientiously and thoughtfully to manage their bees in a TF-manner (even if they do experience severe losses.) I have little expectation that they will succeed, but I am sympathetic to their efforts. What I have no time for are people who get bees and then don't bother to give them the care they need, because actual bee-care is somehow not pure enough, besides it being hot, heavy, time-consuming, sting-y work.

    These are the people who refused my offer to provide them with robbing screens (to keep my girls out - my colonies all have robbing screens to their girls out) on the grounds that robbing screens weren't "natural". Pffui!

    Enj.

  7. #6
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    Default Re: The Mighty Mite Bomb...

    The treatment free beeks that are doing it properly aren't really "treatment free." They just use other tools like resistant stock, good husbandry, etc., to make sure they have healthy stock. I think they have to find another name for themselves that frames it better, because "treatment free" also includes those that throw their bees out in a field and let them live or die no matter what. We can't control what the feral bees do, but we all have a responsibility to look after our own stock.
    jwcarlson: – If your guy up the road goes out of business, you should buy his extractor. Very low mileage!
    I want bees that make up for my mistakes.

  8. #7
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    Default Re: The Mighty Mite Bomb...

    what next? AFB Bombs.
    mites are easy, how many are able to ID AFB?

  9. #8
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    Default Re: The Mighty Mite Bomb...

    I'd love a crash course on the early signs, especially if there are good pictures. Most of the references seem to be pretty old and bad pictures, people have lost the focus on AFB... maybe in part because it's tough to keep bees alive long enough to worry about AFB for most? If I ever see a cell that looks suspicious I always take a stick - poke, spin, and pull just to check. Hasn't been anything yet. Got some soupy brood when mite infestation were high this spring, but nothing ropey.

  10. #9
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    Default Re: The Mighty Mite Bomb...

    A properly done inspection of brood frames will always include looking for AFB. This doesn't happen automatically, it requires that one practice inspection procedure the way that a piano student practices scales...to commit some of this procedure to 'muscle memory' so that you can use your attention performing each step rather than thinking about what the next step should be.

    Looking for AFB should include looking as 'suspicious' cells (perforated capping, visible 'larval tongue'), but when one looks at a brood frame, one should (out of habit), look in the bottom back corner of cells looking for 'AFB scale'...a dark, hard to remove mass attached at that back/bottom corner. You have to hold the frame in a particular way to see that spot.

    Quote Originally Posted by jwcarlson View Post
    I'd love a crash course on the early signs, especially if there are good pictures. Most of the references seem to be pretty old and bad pictures, people have lost the focus on AFB... maybe in part because it's tough to keep bees alive long enough to worry about AFB for most? If I ever see a cell that looks suspicious I always take a stick - poke, spin, and pull just to check. Hasn't been anything yet. Got some soupy brood when mite infestation were high this spring, but nothing ropey.
    Sometimes the lights all shining on me
    Other times I can barely see. -The Grateful Dead

  11. #10
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    Default Re: The Mighty Mite Bomb...

    Interesting thread topic, DeKnow.

    Randy Oliver ( www.scientificbeekeeping.com ) has been working with the issue of mites for a number of years. He is a strong proponent of IPM until we have stocks that handle mites on their own. He has recently came up with a simple alcohol wash system for monitoring mite levels. His website is a fantastic place to begin understanding the issues with varroa destructor, the mite about which we speak.

    He readily admits that, by treating, we are essentially creating treatment-resistant MITES, and that the goal should be treatment-free bees, but also that it is not a practical approach for a medium to large apiary until the stocks of bees have been found to handle the mites.

    I'd suggest a "propaganda" campaign to urge beginning beekeepers to start out as IPM beekeepers until they are actually ready to become Treatment-Free beekeepers. This might require a certification not unlike Great Britain's.

    ***********************************************

    Another approach that seems to be working is Lauri Miller's setup. Worker-size cell foundation wax sheets are cut in half (vertically) and mounted in the frames with only the vertical wires. Bees are allowed to build larger "Drone / Honey"-sized cells in the outer 4" of each frame in the broodnest.

    In the Springtime, the bees make "Drone" cell - sized comb and the queen lays drone brood in these areas. Before they hatch, she cuts the drone brood out with a knife, and places it in the solar wax melter. No Mites!

    Over the summer, the wax is re-drawn, again large cells. Some is drone brood, this gets removed along with the mites and goes into the wax melter, but much of it is now filled with honey. As the Fall season approaches, almost no drones are laid in the large cells. Honey gets packed into the large cells, right where the bees will have easy access to them when they need it for the winter.

    So, it is a 3-way winner. Save half the cost of foundation, easy to kill the varroa mites by cutting out the drone brood, and puts honey where it is needed for winter.

    So, her method depends on your definition of "treatment-free", but it is not "management-free". You gotta' visit every hive with your knife and keep those wax melters hot. It does seem to be working for her quite well, and I would not consider her apiary a "Mite Bomb".

  12. #11
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    Default Re: The Mighty Mite Bomb...

    Quote Originally Posted by deknow View Post
    A properly done inspection of brood frames will always include looking for AFB. This doesn't happen automatically, it requires that one practice inspection procedure the way that a piano student practices scales...to commit some of this procedure to 'muscle memory' so that you can use your attention performing each step rather than thinking about what the next step should be.

    Looking for AFB should include looking as 'suspicious' cells (perforated capping, visible 'larval tongue'), but when one looks at a brood frame, one should (out of habit), look in the bottom back corner of cells looking for 'AFB scale'...a dark, hard to remove mass attached at that back/bottom corner. You have to hold the frame in a particular way to see that spot.
    Thank you!

    I did know this and do this when inspecting. Just didn't know if there were earlier signs.

  13. #12
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    Default Re: The Mighty Mite Bomb...

    Regarding AFB, there's also the sniff test...Whew, rotten = AFB, sour milk-like = EFB. Suspicious? There's the toothpick test for "ropiness" - the goo will make quite a "string" connected to the toothpick if it's AFB.

  14. #13
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    Default Re: The Mighty Mite Bomb...

    guys running bees for profit inspect for afb, many others have no idea what it looks like.
    or what to do about it.
    abandoned hives and unworked hives never get inspected.

  15. #14
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    Default Re: The Mighty Mite Bomb...

    Quote Originally Posted by clyderoad View Post
    guys running bees for profit inspect for afb, many others have no idea what it looks like.
    or what to do about it.
    abandoned hives and unworked hives never get inspected.
    Another excellent case for certification of beekeepers. And a third one would be that the education level would prevent many colony losses by beekeepers below 3 years experience, let alone a lot of frustration.

  16. #15
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    Default Re: The Mighty Mite Bomb...

    Quote Originally Posted by deknow View Post
    the annual pox party
    Love these threads!

  17. #16
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    Default Re: The Mighty Mite Bomb...

    Quote Originally Posted by Oldtimer View Post
    Love these threads!
    ..my expectation is that when we next hear of Beeologics and dsRNAi for honeybees, it will be in the form of a rapidly produced formulation based on sampling the bees in Almonds. It would be a near ideal proof of concept/research goal for broader (beyond bees, beyond agriculture) uses...but the quick and inexpensive turn around is likely where the R&D $$ is being spent, and the Beeologics past work (as well as other Monsanto hires...like Jerry Hayes) makes it likely bees will be the proof of concept.

    Could you imagine a 'flu vaccine' for the bees...taylord to whatever is found in the almonds...from Varroa to AFB to DWV? The implications (in the relationship between agriculture and the environment) are staggering.
    Sometimes the lights all shining on me
    Other times I can barely see. -The Grateful Dead

  18. #17
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    Default Re: The Mighty Mite Bomb...

    OT, I want to make sure there isn't a cultural gap here. When I say 'pox party', I'm talking about chicken pox in children, not a deadly smallpox outbreak.

    Most here get vaccinations now, but when I was a kid, when one kid got chickenpox, they had a party for all the neighborhood kids to catch it while they are young. It seemed to me that 'pox party' might have a different connotation on the other side of the world
    Sometimes the lights all shining on me
    Other times I can barely see. -The Grateful Dead

  19. #18
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    Default Re: The Mighty Mite Bomb...

    Quote Originally Posted by deknow View Post
    Could you imagine a 'flu vaccine' for the bees...taylord to whatever is found in the almonds...from Varroa to AFB to DWV?
    No I couldn't. For a long time yet we will live with these things.

    My previous post Deknow I was not poking fun at you, just having a giggle at your terminology. And you are correct, pox has different connotations here thanks for explaining. I agree with the general idea you were trying to get across, about how the almond migration is a major stressor and disease spreader among bees. It is an incredible testament to the skills of these commercial guys that they even keep their bees alive. Must be so aggravating for them to continuously be dispensed advice about how stupid they are and how they should be treatment free, from guys with 2 sometimes alive hives in their back yard that are not subjected to close contact with other bees.

  20. #19
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    Default Re: The Mighty Mite Bomb...

    With high bee density where I am I've never worried about other peoples mites, can't, or I'd go crazy. I accept there will always be mite pressure so ensure it is not an issue to me if I'm aware of the surroundings and running my own hives properly.

    AFB is another story though, several times in my life I have had nearby idiots lose hives to AFB followed by the hive / hives getting robbed, and then get it in my hives. Only a couple of months ago I had to burn 17 hives due to the actions of an idiot who plonked AFB infected and dying hives only 800 yards away from my apiary.

    From what I read, at one time AFB was a big problem in the US. Which forced people to get serious about it and now it is extremely rare. This comes with it's own problems though, hardly any of the new crop of hobby beekeepers have any experience with it, and some TF beekeepers including at least one who is regarded as a guru, are actually saying on their web site that if they ever got AFB their bees should be able to "deal with it". If an AFB epidemic does hit an area with a good spread of TF beekeepers of this persuasion, I predict a long haul and expensive losses before it is brought back under control.
    Last edited by Oldtimer; 09-24-2015 at 04:27 PM.

  21. #20
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    Default Re: The Mighty Mite Bomb...

    As a new beek treatment free is relative. I split my hives giving them a break in broad cycle. I've also used some EO's. But I will not use any chemical that requires me to remove all honey or that I have buy a fogger. I also let my bees build their own comb and run mostly foundationless allowing them to build their own natural cell size.

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